Government Is 'Handcuffing' Private-Sector Health Care Innovation

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Instead of interfering in private innovation, Washington needs to let new ideas thrive.

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Sen. Mike Enzi (left) meets with colleagues Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Barrasso in 2007. (Jim Young/Reuters)

It is time to get serious about improving the quality of our country's health care system and lowering its cost for hardworking American families. We must rescue the system from its current path towards cost-driven and ineffective patient care. Imagine how confusing and troublesome it would be to have to get appointments with up to 14 different doctors to receive adequate treatment. Yet unfortunately, this experience is all too common for many Americans. Reforms can significantly improve health care quality and lower health care costs in the long run--but only if we reform both the way we deliver and pay for medical care.

Washington can take important steps now to fix one of the biggest problems in our health care system: Medicare's broken fee-for-service structure. This method of payment encourages providers to see as many patients and prescribe as many treatments as possible. The program does nothing to reward providers who keep patients healthy. These misaligned incentives drive up costs and hurt patient care. The new health care law unfortunately did nothing to address these problems.

Solving the nation's most entrenched problems See full coverage

The most important thing that Washington needs to understand is that there is no single solution for every family or every patient. Unfortunately, when we mandate funds for a specific purpose like health insurance, many people are confronted with the reality of fewer choices and higher costs.

There are a number of steps that can be taken to address this growing problem. Value-based insurance would help realign the incentive structures for delivering health care services by reducing copays for high-value services and increasing copays for low-value or excessive services. Shifting the health care delivery system from one that pays and delivers services based on volume to one that pays and delivers services based on value is an idea that unites both Republicans and Democrats. Consumer-directed health plans provide another avenue for linking financial and delivery system incentives, and have the potential to reduce health care spending by $57 billion per year. Bundled payments will support more efficient and integrated care. All of these options have already been utilized by a number of private sector firms with great success.

Our nation has made great strides in improving the quality of life for all Americans, and every major legislative initiative that has helped transform our country was forged in the spirit of compromise and cooperation. These qualities are essential to the success and longevity of crucial programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. But when it comes to health care decisions being made in Washington lately, the only thing the government is doing well is increasing partisanship and legislative gridlock.

We still need health care reform, but it has to be done the right way. The federal government should be willing to support viable reforms where it is needed, but also refrain from handcuffing innovative private sector designs with excessive regulations or narrow political interests. Providing Americans with access to high quality, affordable health care is something I am confident both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree upon.

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Mike Enzi

Michael Enzi is the senior U.S. senator from Wyoming.

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